In both their language and regulatory demands, most recent HRM planning documents reflect the increased importance society now places on urban environmental health. This concern for the environment is also expressed at higher legislative levels, and every year HRM becomes bound by more federal and provincial environmental regulations. Typically these regulations are aimed at controlling and limiting certain liquid, solid and gaseous emissions. Although there is not yet a single natural landscaping standard amongst these new regulations, there are numerous legislative and policy opportunities that could nonetheless be used to support the adoption of a natural landscaping strategy in Halifax. There are also, however, existing regulations which would hinder any movement HRM might make towards such a landscape approach. It is these legislative, regulatory and policy opportunities and barriers which the following sub-sections examine. Opportunities are examined first and then barriers.
Federally, provincially and municipally there are numerous relevant legislative and policy windows that any policy entrepreneur39 could exploit to justify the case for the adoption of a natural landscaping strategy in Halifax. Indeed, as this section will demonstrate, there is are so many supportive policy objectives that it could be considered that there is almost mandate for municipal action in the field.
For all the international environmental initiatives Canada, the province of Nova Scotia and, by extension, Halifax Regional Municipality is party to, few are binding. Most are politically expedient statements of intent or commitment in that they reflect deep environmental concern in their strong words and worthy intentions, but few include mechanisms to ensure the policy's application or adherence. The federal and municipal level policies discussed below fall into this category. The provincial legislation cited in the section shares the same environmentally sensitive language, but offers more significant opportunities in that it could be used to develop and create real and binding regulatory measures related to natural landscaping.
Still, taken together each level of enabling legislation and policy presents real opportunities for the adoption of a natural landscaping strategy in HRM. To avoid confusion, each level of legislation and policy is examined under its own heading, beginning with the federal level and moving through each jurisdiction to the municipal level.
There are several international and nationeal environmental accords and programs with particular relevance for the advancement of a natural landscaping strategy in HRM. The three most applicable initiatives are the internationally sanctioned Agenda 21 process and the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy, both of which HRM is party to by extension, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' Canadian Cities for Climate Protection Campaign, an initiative to which HRM explicitly committed itself in 1996. Overall and individually, the environmental benefits associated with natural landscaping can play an important role in meeting some of the policy demands of each of the larger environmental initiatives.
Both of the internationally sanctioned initiatives, Local Agenda 21 and the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy, were outgrowths of the UNs 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on the global environment and sustainability. Agenda 21 is a set of goals and programs for environmental sustainability endorsed by 150 nations, including Canada. Chapter 28 of the accord, entitled Local Authorities Initiatives in Support of Agenda 21, states that:
The participation of and cooperation of local authorities will be a determining factor in fulfilling the objectives of Agenda 21, that they have a vital role in educating, mobilizing and responding to the public to promote sustainable development, and that by 1996 local authorities in each country should have undertaken a consultative process with their population to achieve consensus on a local Agenda 21. (Agenda 21, from Gilbert et al. 1996)
Although Local Agenda 21 set out no regulatory mechanism for support and signatories are not legally bound to action, the process is nonetheless highly developed in other parts of the world, notably in Europe (Gilbert et al. 1996). In Canada, only the Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth has developed a Local Agenda 21 with the support of the both Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and the International Committee on Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), the UN agency headquartered in Toronto with the mandate of providing technical and logistical support for the creation of Local Agenda 21s (Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth, Planning and Development Department, personal contact, 1998).
Entitled Vision 2020, Hamilton-Wentworth's Local Agenda 21 represents a comprehensive sustainable development strategy that deals with a broad range of environmental, social, economic and, of particular relevance for this thesis, landscape issues. The document both acknowledges the inherent unsustainable characteristics of current landscape models (these are outlined in 2.0 of the thesis), and establishes a seri}es of sustainable landscape objectives that involve the restoration and conversion of existing parks, open spaces and private properties to create a protected and connected natural areas matrix (Hamilton-Wentworth Planning Department, 1998). Under the terms of the strategy the regional government is currently working with local authorities to draft a progressive by-law structure to encourage and promote natural landscaping on government and private land. In addition, local government units, such as the City of Hamilton Parks Department are currently developing a naturalization strategy and framework to complement the larger strategy (Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth, 1998).
Currently, HRM has not developed any kind of policy position on the Local Agenda 21 process. Discussions with council and staff representatives indicate that it has not yet been raised as a pojlicy issue. The municipality is also currently without an environmental policy statement or operating strategy. Considering the support and financial subsidies available from both FCM and ICLEI, there is a significant window of opportunity for HRM to not only create a much needed larger environmental strategy, but also to develop a complimentary urban landscape policy that would support the adoption of a natural landscaping framework.
The other major international environmental initiative to come out of the Rio Earth Summit that implicitly supports the creation of urban landscape restoration processes was the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity. Canada was the first industrialized nation to ratify the document which commits signatories to the conservation of biological diversity. Shortly after the signing, the federal government initiated a national biological diversity agenda as required by the terms of the convention. Later in the same year, every territorial and provincial government, including Nova Scotia, signed onto the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy, a broadly worded document whose relevant policy goals include (emphasis added):
As with Agenda 21, signatories of the strategy are neither legally bound to meet its ob:jectives, nor are there specific deadlines (Environment Canada, 1997).40 Instead, it is up to each jurisdiction to determine how it will incorporate the directions contained in the strategy into its own environmental agenda. Still, the strategy presents a potential avenue of action which, considering how natural landscaping can be used to help preserve and restore biological diversity in both urban and suburban settings, could be used by HRM to justify the creation and adoption of a new landscape management framework. Again, as with Agenda 21, the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy represents an opportunity to advance natural landscaping.
Unlike the previous initiatives, the last enabling policy to be examined is officially recognized by HRM and the Municipality has taken some action to meet its demands. The Canadian Cities for Climate Protection Campaign, or the 20% Club as it is more commonly known, is an initiative of the FCM, its member municipalities, and the ICLEI to reduce urban greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by the year 2005. The reductions are intended to come from within both municipal operations and the larger community.
So far, as its principal contribution to help meet the Clubs objectives, HRM has implemented an automated traffic flow system which is meant to improve commuting times and thereby help to reduce overall emissions. The municipality has also recently completed the development of an emissions inventory. According to staff, the next phase of the ongoing project will be to develop programs to achieve the reduction targets. Although this phase has only just begun, the Municipality has not yet formally identified the potential of naturalized urban landscapes to help trap and reduce CO2 emissions above what can be achieved by conventional landscapes.41 Given HRM's apparent desire to move further on greenhouse gas reduction, natural landscaping emerges as an effective and cost sensitive policy avenue for the Municipality.
To summarize, the adoption of a natural landscaping strategy can assist HRM to meet the overall goals represented in Agenda 21, the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities 20% Club. A mandate for the use of natural landscaping can be applied to each policy given: (a) inherent sustainability as a form of landscaping; (b) capacity to create, enhance and maintain urban wildlife, plant and insect habitat thereby helping to preserve biological diversity, and; (b) ability as to act as a more effective greenhouse gas sink than conventional urban landscaping.
On the provincial level there are a number of potentially significant regulatory tools and powers that HRM could employ to promote the development of a natural landscaping strategy. The most significant enabling opportunities are found in the Planning Act (RSNS 1989, c. 346, as amended). The Act empowers HRM with broad authority for the regulation and management of the environment and provides municipal regulators with the ability to devise and enact strategic, sustainability-based land use by-laws and regulations.
Sections 37 and 38 of the Planning Act, in particular, endow all Nova Scotian municipalities with the statutory right to establish "statements of policy" in municipal planning strategies. Using the guidelines set out in the Act, these statements can speak to virtually any environmental matter or subject including the restoration of urban landscape function and processes. The particular areas of provincial interest to which natural landscaping can be applied by municipal policy makers include: "the protection of environmentally sensitive areas"; the use and conservation of energy; and, "the supply and distribution of water, including the management and protection of watershed areas, ground water recharge areas, water treatment, transmission and distribution" (Planning Act, RSNS, 1989, sections 37 and 38). HRM's planners could use this section of the Act to incorporate progressive and far reaching policy guidelines that could support natural landscaping in almost every land use decision to help meet the Acts implied commitment to the environment.
Currently, the Planning Act is under review and a revised Act is expected to be passed in the near future. Throughout the review process, comments from both the planning community and the general public were invited. Interestingly, perhaps the most significant feedback received through this review process was directed explicitly at strengthening the Act's environmental thrust. Of particular interest were the recommendations made by the Nova Scotia branch of the Community Planning Association of Canada (CPAC) to formally install the principles and practice of environmentally sustainable development in the land use planning process. Specifically, CPAC recommended that "all development applications shall include details of their potential effects on the environment and measures for mitigation." In addition, it suggested that all planning documents "shall identify, designate and protect resources, including green spaces and wilderness areas, energy efficiency", and of greatest concern for the argument presented by this thesis, "ecologically and environmentally responsible landscaping" (CPAC , 1997).
Unfortunately, the current draft of the Act neglects to incorporate CPAC's recommendations, but it does reservedly acknowledge the public's desires for a more environmentally assertive Act through its StatemVents of Provincial Interest. In particular, the current draft calls for land use planning that adheres to "the principles of sustainable development" and encourages "thoughtful, innovative and creative application" of the Act. It is a less than assertive strengthening of the Act's environmental mandate, to be sure, but it does build on the earlier Act's acknowledgement of the environment and can only be of benefit to anyone seeking to develop an appropriate urban landscape restoration policy for HRM.
Beyond the Planning Act, there are two other key pieces of legislation that local planners and politicians could exploit to advance the cause of sustainable landscape management in HRM. The two Acts, the HRM Act, (RSNS 1995, c.3) and the Environment Act (RSNS 1995, c.3) work in concert to build on and support environmental planning measures that can be achieved with the current Planning Act. Like the Planning Act, the two statutes do not specifically acknowledge natural landscaping itself, but both implicitly support its adoption and application through their larger mandates.
The more recent HRM Act, permits municipal development officers to forward subdivision applications to the Department of Environment for their approval on environmental grounds. This innocuous action can become very significant, as the legislation under which the Department of the Environment can legally review the application is full of sustainability-based intent and policy.
Although no clear landscape restoration and protection regulations are laid out, the Environment Act begins with a general recital of intent in which the concept of sustainability, an idea clearly linked to natural landscapes, is declared as public policy. Section 2(b)(vii), in fact, calls for the "comprehensive integration of sustainable development principles in public policy making in the province" (Environment Act, RSNS, 1995, s. 3). In addition, the Act's preamble lends its statutory support to the stewardship principle, the polluter pay principle and the precautionary principle, all of which appear to demand a more environmentally sensitive urban landscape management approach than is currently practiced. In regard to land-use, or by extension landscape planning in particular, Section 4 of the Act states emphatically:
(4) A by-law or regulation of a municipality, or an authorization issued by a municipality is, to the extent that it is in conflict or inconsistent with this Act, suspended and of no effect. (from: Environment Act RSNS 1994-95, c.1)
As will be discussed further in section 4.2.2, Constraining Policy and By-Laws, this clause could be used to strike down or amend a section of the HRM Act which, as it stands, forms a considerable legal hindrance to private landowners who wish to naturalize their front yards. In addition to the by-law striking potential found in the Act, it also permits the creation of by-laws with performance demands that are beyond those of the Act itself. Such standards could be used to develop certain minimum ecological performance objectives for municipally maintained parkland and open spaces. These standards could include such items as a maximum amount of impervious ground cover, a maximum turf grass area, and other such matters.
Section VII of the Environment Act, Dangerous Goods and Pesticides, could also be used to support the creationW of a natural landscaping strategy. In particular, section 81(a) of the Act calls upon the Minister of Environment to "develop, co-ordinate and enforce policies, planning and programs respecting integrated pest management and alternatives to the use of pesticides". The same section also allows the Minister to fund specific projects which seek to reduce pesticide use. As natural landscaping does not require the pesticides commonly applied to conventionally landscaped areas, HRM could use the Act to seek funding for the creation of a natural landscaping strategy.
In summary, all three provincial statutes can be used to support the adoption of a natural landscaping strategy in HRM. Both individually and in combination with one another, sections of the Environment Act, the Planning Act and the HRM Act provide a window of opportunity and palette of action for environmentally or ecologically conscious planners and politicians in HRM to develop more sustainable urban landscape standards, patterns and forms.
On the municipal level, there are several policy objectives whose attainment strongly supports the adoption of a natural landscape strategy in HRM. Of particular note are those found in two planning documents originally adopted by the former City of Halifax, but whose force carries over into the newly amalgamated municipality. The relevant statements are found in the old City of Halifax's Municipal Development Plan and the Halifax Parkland Strategy. This sub-section will also examine a policy paper currently in development, HRM's Open Space Plan. Although the document is neither complete nor in force, its development is well underway and its policy elements may have significant implications for the consideration of natural landscaping in HRM.
Given the fact that it is the only document to explicitly deal with the subject of natural landscaping, the Halifax Parkland Strategy marks the best place to begin the examination of municipal-level opportunities. The comprehensive, three volume strategy was adopted by the former City of Halifax in 1995 shortly before amalgamation. Of the objectives and policies that remain in force under the new HRM structure, several represent especially important windows of opportunity for the adoption of a natural landscaping strategy.
The reports most significant policy objective is its official acknowledgement of natural landscaping as an emerging trend in parkland management with special relevance for Halifax. Although the report does not identify natural landscaping by name, it does specifically recognize two component strands: (a) the increased use of indigenous vegetation; and, (b) replacing lawns with meadows. The report offers a very brief description of the two processes, acknowledges their potential application for Halifax parkland and makes the following, fairly cautious policy statement:
The City should explore opportunities and identify appropriate locations for increasing the use of indigenous vegetation and substituting meadows for lawns, while recognizing that these approaches will not be appropriate in every setting.
Although it is hardly a ringing endorsement for the practice of natural landscaping, the statement is nonetheless significant in its declaration of intent. Interestingly, this reserved tone does not carry over to the strategy's treatment of the related topic of schoolground naturalization, a subject for which it gives strong support and goes into much greater detail. Unlike parkland naturalization, the City of Halifax has had some experience with schoolground naturalization, all of which have been extremely successful.42 These positive experiences are manifested in the Parkland Strategy as it makes four clear policy statements to strengthen and build on the schoolground naturalization process. Figure 4.1
Three of the statements follow:
Policy 4.6.1 The City should encourage the Halifax School Board to reduce the amount of pavement on schoolgrounds in favour of greenspace and tree cover.
Policy 4.6.2 The City should continue to cooperate with the Halifax School Board and community groups in identifying suitable sites for schoolground naturalization projects.
Policy 4.6.3 In so far as recreational needs, maintenance considerations and budget constraints permit, the City should continue to cooperate with the Halifax School Board and community groups in the naturalization of school sites which have been selected for this purpose through mutual agreement.
The document also clearly links schoolground naturalization with environmental values education for both children and the wider school community. Although the strategy does not make the same supportive links with parkland or open space naturalization, the municipality's positive experience with its school projects nonetheless bodes well for the larger application of natural landscaping on municipally maintained lands.
One final opportunity the Strategy presents for natural landscaping is in its discussion of parkland maintenance costs and the citys desire to reduce them. Considering the inherent cost savings of natural landscaping outlined in Chapter 2, two further policy statements that could then be cited to support the adoption of a natural landscaping strategy include:
Policy 7.2.4 The City should continue to pursue cost reduction strategies for parkland development, maintenance, and operation and;
Policy 7.3.2 The City should prepare an Operational Strategy to guide the design, deveClopment, management and operation of parks
Using these two policies, there is an opportunity to first establish natural landscaping as a method of reducing park maintenance costs and then, through the development of the Operational Strategy, to build the practice into the maintenance and management framework for city parks.
Although the policies laid out in the Parkland Strategy are still in force, HRM is currently developing a new strategic plan that will operate as an extension of the older strategy. The Open Space Plan is a large policy program currently under development by an interdepartmental HRM policy team. Its overall goal is to enable the "consistent, efficient and wise use of open space decision making, in the context of an over-all regional planning framework" (HRM, Policy & Priority, 1998, p1). To be sure, the planning exercise represents a significant undertaking with its broadly defined mission, large project scope and the breadth of issues, or themes as the plan refers to them, that it seeks to address. The project defines open space as:
Land or aquatic areas/corridors which contribute to one or more of the Regions environmental, economic, social and cultural assets, while also providing opportunities for recreational/leisure use and/or conservation. (from: Open Space Plan Project Outline, 1998, p1)
With this umbrella definition in place, a definition which certainly includes the urban landscape elements this thesis addresses, the Open Space Plans project outline then lists the themes, or landscape areas, it seeks to address. Each and every one of the theme areas have special relevance for the consideration of natural landscaping at the municipal level. They are:
Although staff interviews confirm that the Plan and its development team have yet to identify natural landscaping as a component issue of open space management, the Plans broad scope certainly does not exclude the potential of that occurring. Certainly when one considers the themes that the Plan hopes to address in relation to the supportive natural landscaping policy statements made by its progenitor document, the Halifax Parkland Strategy, the potential for increasing the political and public profile of natural landscaping through the Open Space Plan is significant.
The final municipal policy document that could be used to support the adoption of a natural landscaping strategy is the old City of Halifax's Municipal Planning Strategy, or MPS. The MPS was adopted in 1986, well before amalgamation. Like the Parkland Strategy, its policies remain in effect for its planning area until a new MPS is developed and adopted. Like the Parkland Strategy, the MPS makes no specific policy statements regarding natural landscaping and the restoration of municipal landscape functions and processes. The document, however, does contain general policy directives which could be interpreted and applied to support the adoption of a natural landscaping strategy for the larger HRM area.
Like most large-scale planning strategies, the document begins with a general recital of its basic approach and overall objectives. Although the preamble does not mention environmental factors specifically, it does call for the creation of an "interesting and livable city, developed at a scale and density which preserve and enhance the quality of life" (City of Halifax, 1987, pI-1). Later, in a section devoted to environmental goals, the document states its overall environmental objective as the preservation and enhancement, where possible, of the natural and man-made environment (City of Halifax, 1987, pII-31). To realize this objective the document lays out a series of policy statements, the most applicable for natural landscaping are as follows:
Policy 8.7 The City should make every effort to ensure that air, water, soils, and noise pollution are minimized and do not damage the quality of life in the City.
Policy 8.9 The City shall maintain the planting and protection of shade trees within its control, and should develop a tree planting program which will improve the quality of the urban environment.
Policy 8.11 The City should encourage educational programs to further an understanding and appreciation of the environment. (City of Halifax, 1986, pp II-31-32)
Again, given its environmental benefits and its engaging and educational qualities, a straightforward case for natural landscaping could be made using any of these directives. Perhaps the best opportunity is contained in Policy 8.9 given its use of the definitive word shall rather than the conditional should. Using this particular policy, it could be argued that the most successful urban forestry programs, such as that practised by North York, utilize natural landscaping as a key component. As outlined in section 2.0, street and park tree survival rates improve dramatically if the turf and/or pavement areas they are typically found in are replaced with a native woodland community.
In summary, both the Halifax Parkland Strategy and the municipality's MPS for the core area (the old City of Halifax) contain policy objectives and support overall goals which could substantiate the case for the adoption of a natural landscaping strategy in HRM. Although the municipality's Open Space Plan is still under development and has not been adopted, its current direction and intent is also consistent with the objectives and end goals of natural landscaping.
There are far fewer regulatory or policy constraints than there are opportunities. In fact, given the general environmentally positive nature of most relevant policy objectives it is difficult to construe any constraining factors from them. Federally, there are no discernible legislative or policy obstacles. Provincially, there are two minor legislative obstacles. One is applied locally as an ordinance in HRM and the other applies province wide. The two may actually be better considered encumbrances, as they do not expressly limit the practice of natural landscaping, but rather impede it implicitly. Additionally, both are more a concern for private landowners wishing to naturalize their properties than for HRM considering doing the same with its own properties. Finally, there are also three municipal by-laws which enforce certain landscaping standards. The three were created before amalgamation, but are still in force for their specific geographic jurisdictions until they either repealed or amended.
Provincially, the first piece of legislation which might limit the adoption of a municipal natural landscaping strategy is the Provincial Weed Act (RSNS, 1993 ). Like most provinces, Nova Scotia maintains legislation to protect agricultural crops and lands from pernicious and invasive weeds. Unlike the municipal weed laws discussed in section 3.1.1, Nova Scotias Weed Act only regulates specifically defined noxious weeds such ragweed, lambkill and velvet leaf. Although the province maintains weed inspectors across the province and in HRM in particular, it is ultimately the responsibility of property owners to control and remove noxious weeds when encountered. The legislation can therefore be considered an obstacle to natural landscaping only in its regulation of permitted plant species.
The second provincial legislative obstacle to natural landscaping is found in the Halifax Regional Municipality Act, Part XIII (RSNS, c.3, 1996), where the municipality maintains a very broadly worded and legally vague Dangerous or Unsightly Premises ordinance for application in HRM. Like the weed ordinances used against individuals with naturally landscaped properties in the US and Canada, HRMs ordinance is based on ambiguous aesthetic principles that, if challenged in court, would likely not stand. The pertinent sections read:
188 (2) The owner of a property shall not permit any grass, bush or hedge on the property to become unsightly in relation to neighbouring properties
183 (2) Where a property is...unsightly, Council, or a standing committee to which this function has been delegated by administrative order, may cause an order to be served to the owner requiring that the condition be remedied...and specifying in that order what is required to be done.
Again, with reference to challenges to similar ordinances elsewhere, it is doubtful that these sections could be upheld should a property owner challenge them. It is perhaps even more doubtful that city officials would actively seek to apply the section to individuals conscientiously naturalizing a property. Realistically, as has been the case in many U.S. examples, the section would likely only be cited by an individual adamantly opposed to a neighbour's natural landscaping project. Even so, these sections must still be regarded as an obstacle until they are struck down through legal action or amended upon examination by city staff with knowledge of natural landscaping.
On the municipal level, there are also three closely related by-laws which can also be interpreted as potential hindrances to natural landscaping on private property. Only one of the by-laws applies specifically to private property, while the other two, a by-law and an ordinance, apply to the private maintenance of publicly owned boulevard areas in HRMs core area. The two street regulations are interesting in so far as they reflect current municipal service standards for publicly owned and maintained property. The relevant sections of the Dartmouth by-law is quoted first, followed by the two regulations from the former City of Halifax.
City of Dartmouth Bylaw M-101 Minimum Standard of Use and Maintenance of Property in the City of Dartmouth.
3. The owner of any property in the City shall: (b) keep the grass cut
4. The owner of a dwelling or building containing dwelling units in the City and the owner of land on which either is situated shall maintain the land and buildings thereon as follows: (a) Yard (ii) heavy undergrowth shall be eliminated
City of Halifax Streets By-Law, Number S-300 Part II - Use of Sidewalks
(2) Abutters, except where grass cutting and maintenance service is provided by the Municipality, shall maintain any grass between the sidewalk and the curb closely clipped and to a height not greater than six inches and shall keep such areas in good order including raking and renewal of the grass as necessary.
City of Halifax Streets Ordinance, number 180 Part 111 - Maintenamce and Care of Street Green Areas
25. Abutters shall maintain and keep the grass cut on the grassed portions of the street or sidewalk abutting their property. Maintenance and grass cutting includes keeping the grassed or sodded part of the street closely clipped to a maximum height of 15 centimetres, clean and in good order.
As with the unsightly premises regulations presented in the HRM Act, the Dartmouth by-law would likely not stand the test of a legal challenge. The same, however, cannot be said of Halifax's two streets regulations. Although privately maintained, boulevard areas are publicly owned. Should HRM to decide to permit the naturalization of streets and boulevards the by-law would need reworking or become obsolete. Still, both by-laws and the single ordinance may be considered regulatory obstacles to individuals wishing to naturalize their property and/or boulevard area.
Text and graphics copyright (c)1998, 1999 Wild Ones -- Natural
All rights reserved. Updated May 16, 1999.
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